Florida Punitive Damages
If you have been injured in an accident caused by an intoxicated driver, you can be awarded damages for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering also known as compensatory damages. What most people don’t know is that in a Personal Injury case involving an intoxicated defendant, you are entitled to make a claim for punitive damages, or damages awarded to an injured party intended to punish the wrongdoer.
Also, punitive damages are intended to deter other people from exercising the same reckless decision making in the future. Driving while intoxicated and injuring someone else in the process can have serious monetary consequences.
The standards for the award of punitive damages enunciated by the Florida Supreme Court in the adoption of the standard jury instruction are as follows:
Punitive damages are warranted if you find by the greater weight of the evidence that:
(1) the conduct causing loss, injury or damage to claimant was so gross and flagrant as to show a reckless disregard of human life or of the safety of persons exposed to the effects of such conduct; or
(2) the conduct showed such an entire lack of care that the defendant must have been consciously indifferent to the consequences; or
(3) the conduct showed an entire lack of care that the defendant must have wantonly or recklessly disregarded the safety and welfare of the public; or
(4) the conduct showed such reckless indifference to the rights of others as to be equivalent to an intentional violation of those rights.
If one of the above applies, the jury will then be able to determine an amount that the intoxiated defendant should pay as civil punishment for the reckless conduct.
Additionally, Florida Statute, §768.736 states that the limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded to an injured plaintiff does not apply in cases involving intoxicated defendants. Therefore, the award amount is completely in the hands of a jury which usually does not sympathize with a recklessly intoxicated driver.
Similarly, if you are aboard a boat or vessel and the boat’s operator is driving the boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, also known as BUI (Boating Under the Influence), or otherwise operating the vessel in a reckless manner, then you are entitled to recover both compensatory and punitive damages in the event of an accident causing injuries. Like DUI, the blood alcohol content at which impairment is presumed is 0.08.
It is important to note that punitive damages do not necessarily require a significant personal injury. You may be suffering from mental anguish due to an accident with a drunk driver or boater. The Supreme Court has ruled in Ingram v. Pettit, 340 So. 2d 922 (Fla. 1976) “We affirmatively hold that the voluntary act of driving ”while intoxicated” evinces, without more, a sufficiently reckless attitude for a jury to be asked to provide an award of punitive damages if it determines liability exists for compensatory damages.”
Nationwide, courts are awarding punitive damages in attempts to encourage drunk people to stay off the road. The logic behind this matter is that if a drunk driver knows that they may incur severe financial burden for an accident, they may do the prudent thing and stay off the road.
If you are in an accident with a drunk driver, you are entitled to punitive damages. Once a court grants you the right to pursue these damages, defendants usually attempt to settle the case to avoid the potential exposure and a substantially higher damages award that a jury may prescribe.
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